Landing in the sweet spot right in between rock and metal and between the “prog” and “post” prefixes, French quartet RIVIERE are sure to tick a lot of people’s boxes with their debut album Heal. Their songs are complex and progressive in nature but drenched in atmosphere and emotion, arriving at an impressively sophisticated sound that fans of Oceansize, Riverside, Skyharbor and Cult of Luna will love.
RELEASE DATE: 20 January 2017 LABEL: Basick Records
The biggest draw of Heal is undoubtedly the guitar work. Guitarists Alexandre Berenguer and Nicolas Saravia serve up a varied platter of riffs and leads, working many different threads and ideas into richly satisfying songs. Opener “New Cancer” plays out as a kind of battle between a big, thunderous riff and a jittery, scratchy lead line that jinxes and weaves its way through the song. Tracks like “Binary Love” and “Golden Wounds” have an immediate impact with their aggressive alt-metal riffing but every song shows a considerable range, dropping down to dreamy, reverb-soaked verses and building up again. The beautifully dynamic production really helps accentuate the contrasts in RIVIERE’s sound so that the guitars really do pull away from you in the quiet moments and the gritty bass sound adds just the right amount of heft.
Even when you think you have RIVIERE‘s sound figured out they still throw in a couple of surprises. “Symbol” features a rather unexpected and very melancholy sax solo and the magnificent “Satin Night” ramps up the metal factor with some deliciously heavy riffs and some impressive bursts of technical playing. RIVIERE aren’t big on repeated sections or choruses and their songs take a few listens to really unfold but each individual moment is interesting enough to hold your attention from the first listen.
I have two complaints. Firstly, the vocals aren’t always great. Arnaud Laffont’s dreamy, introspective voice sounds good when he’s just part of the atmosphere, mixing his lines in with the layers of guitar and reverb, but when he goes for that more emotive higher register it sounds rather thin and strained. Harmonies are used brilliantly throughout to lift a certain section or line but overall the vocals are unfortunately the weak link here. And I could’ve done with some screams to help the heavier sections land with more of a punch. But that’s me.
My second complaint relates to the composition of the songs. Each has more than enough builds and drops and sometimes the shifts feel a bit arbitrary. I’d say pretty much every song on the album could benefit from being a minute shorter, and you could lose the so-so instrumental “Cobalt” without hurting the album’s flow at all. Like I said, you’re never bored listening to Heal but I sometimes wondered if the songs were really going anywhere, and if they could’ve gotten there a little faster.
As a mix of post-rock mood and prog-metal muscle, Heal succeeds brilliantly about 75% of the time, and the rest is merely “good”. For a debut album that’s more than enough to mark RIVIERE as a band to watch.